May 21, 2008

Spotted seahorse of Singapore

Yesterday, I was overwhelmed to receive an email from Rudie H. Kuiter, author of "Seahorses, pipefishes and their relatives" among many other wonderful marine guides.

He shared that he was in the process of updating the CD-rom version of his Seahorse book and expanding on many of the species. He added that as the type-locality of the well known Hippocampus kuda is Singapore, he felt it is important to show the species from there.

And to my incredible awe, he decided to use my photos for this effort! Wow!

In the process, he also generously identified these seahorses that are commonly seen on our intertidal as Hippocampus kuda.

Taken on Chek Jawa, Pulau Ubin May 04

Taken on Changi, Jan 01

Taken on Labrador, Jun 05

Taken at Sisters Island, Dec 03

Taken on Changi, Dec 03

Taken on Pulau Sekudu, May 08

Thus even the 'hairy' seahorses, and seahorses with banded tails, that we often see on the intertidal are all Hippocampus kuda.

More about our Hippocampus kuda

'Kuda' is the Malay word for 'horse', so this seahorse is truly local!

The common name for this seahorse is the Spotted seahorse.

Alas, H. kuda is on the Red List of our threatened wildlife. Its status is vulnerable.

From Ng, P. K. L. & Y. C. Wee, 1994. The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened Plants and Animals of Singapore. The Nature Society (Singapore), Singapore. 343 pp.
Habitat destruction appears to be the main threat, but it is also collected for medicinal purposes and for the aquarium trade.

The recognition and protection of seagrass areas, especially those in the north-eastern coast of Singapore is important for the survival of this species.
What are the other species of seahorses recorded for Singapore?

From Wee Y.C. and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994. A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore. National Council on the Environment. 163pp, the species are:
Hippocampus histrix
Hippocampus kuda
Hippocampus spinosissimus
Hippocampus trimaculatus
I asked Rudie Kuiter about how to distinguish these different species and he kindly shared some valuable insights.

He has generously agreed to allow me to share this on the wildfilms blog, and in addition says "if someone has any questions on seahorse id, I will be more than happy to look at images send to my email address" rudiekuiter at optusnet dot com dot au:
"H. histrix could be in the area, but has long spines and such species nearly always live in sponge habitats and these are usually at moderate depths. Long spines would not be a good thing to have in weeds.

H. spinosissimus is a very small spiny species and the name is constantly misused. This name is used for H. arnei which occurs in the Gulf of Thailand will probably occur in your area, but it lives out on open sand flats and I dived in Singapore, doubt that you have the habitat suitable.

I have a pictures of H. comes from Bintan Island and this looks much like kuda, but slender, a bit more spiny, longer snout and has double spine below the head instead of a single one such as in H. kuda.

I still have not seen any photographs of H. trimaculatus and not sure about this species or where it originally came from.

I am sure that there are more species in your area, but I am afraid that you will look beyond the tidal zone."
What's in a name?

For those who are deeply concerned about species names, I thought it would be useful learning to share some extracts of Rudie Kuiter's introduction to the issues and difficulties with species names which he outlined in his "Seahorses, Pipefishes and their Relatives: A Comprehensive Guide to Syngnathiformes":
The taxonomy of fishes is relatively young, and there are many similar species that were only recently discovered. The nomenclature includes numerous synonyms and often wrong names are applied, even to the most common species, and only when a particular group is studied in detail, this becomes apparent.

Many problems came about when similar species were treated under the same name and later were recognised as being different, but then applying the name to the wrong one.

A popular way of determining a species in similar groups is by providing a key that is based on the characteristics that separates one species from the other. However, this can also be a trap as such a key many not cover all the species and an unknown or new species may fit the key. Wrong names often result from the use of keys to determine a species when used in different geographical zones that often share closely related species.

In many cases confusion remains about the identity of species that were named a long time ago. Descriptions and illustrations were excellent by many authors and with diagnostic features presented leaving no doubt to their identity, but others were basic and poor, and could apply to several species.

Type-materials that represents particular species may be lost, was destroyed in wars or natural disasters, or in some cases specimens were substituted with others that may not represent the true species.

Where there is a problem with the identity of a species, all these factors must be considered.

As many species have a restricted distribution, the type locality can play an important role to determine the true identity of a species.

Confusion is caused when the same species is described several times by different people, different forms of the same species received separate names, or the same name is used for different species.

Many species were described over 100 years ago and it is difficult to know at the time, if a species was already named by somebody else. This often resulted in common widespread species having multiple names.

Kuiter, Rudie H., 2000 (English edition). Seahorses, Pipefishes and their Relatives: A Comprehensive Guide to Syngnathiformes. TMC Publishing, UK. 240 pp

Wee Y.C. and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994.
A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore. National Council on the Environment. 163pp.

Ng, P. K. L. & Y. C. Wee, 1994.
The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened Plants and Animals of Singapore. The Nature Society (Singapore), Singapore. 343 pp.

1 comment:

Felicia said...

Beautiful photos of your local seahorses, you must be so proud that Kuiter wants to use them. I've found that a good way to ID H. kuda is by looking at the coronet, which usually has a backward facing hook.